Many sportsmen have been inspired by country life to put brush to canvas. So too have many whose talents have a more literary cast. The canon of fiction, prose, verse, and song generated by the lovers of country sports and the lifestyle in which they are set fill many shelves at the NSLM. The poems and songs of William H. Ogilvie are among them.
William, or more commonly Will, Ogilvie was born into a large family based in the Scottish border town of Kelso during the summer of 1869. He was educated at Kelso High School before attending Fettes College in Edinburgh where he was a good athlete, participating in rugby and running, and an excellent student, winning a prize for Latin verse.
At the age of twenty, Will emigrated to Australia. He arrived with a letter of introduction to Robert Scott’s family which eventually landed him the first of a series of jobs at sheep stations. Friends of the Scotts needed help on their ranch called Belalie located in New South Wales. Here Will mastered the skills of drover, station hand, horseman, and horse breaker. Here he also began to record his experiences in poems. His love of the Australian bush country, horses, dogs, and fair ladies, forms the subject of his ballads. He published most of his work in newspapers and periodicals and gradually became recognized as one of the great bush poets of Australia.
After twelve years in Australia, Will returned to Scotland. He would continue to create poems featuring horses, riding, and country life, throughout his long life. Many of his works would be printed in magazines such as Punch and The Spectator in England, as well as The Bulletin in Australia. In addition, there were numerous collections of his work published. Below I’ve shared three of his poems. I especially enjoy the nostalgic mood of “The Huntsman’s Horse.”
The Huntsman’s Horse
by Will Ogilvie
The galloping seasons have slackened his pace,
And stone wall and timber have battered his knees
It is many a year since he gave up his place
To live out his life in comparative ease.
No more does he stand with his scarlet and white
Like a statue of marble girth deep in the gorse;
No more does he carry the Horn of Delight
That called us to follow the huntsman’s old horse.
How many will pass him and not understand,
As he trots down the road going cramped in his stride,
That he once set the pace to the best in the land
Ere they tightened his curb for a lady to ride!
When the music begins and a right one’s away,
When hoof-strokes are thudding like drums on the ground,
The old spirit wakes in the worn-looking grey
And the pride of his youth comes to life at a bound.
He leans on the bit and he lays to his speed,
To the winds of the open his stiffness he throws,
And if spirit were all he’d be up with the lead
Where the horse that supplants him so easily goes.
No double can daunt him, no ditch can deceive,
No bank can beguile him to set a foot wrong,
But the years that have passed him no power can retrieve —
To the swift is their swiftness, their strength to the strong!
To the best of us all comes a day and a day
When the pace of the leaders shall leave us forlorn,
So we’ll give him a cheer – the old galloping grey –
As he labours along to the lure of the Horn.
From Scattered Scarlet (1923). The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
The White Hound
by Will Ogilvie
The white hound runs at the head of the pack,
And mute as a mouse is he,
And never a note he flings us back
While the others voice their glee.
With nose to the ground he holds his line
Be it over the plough or grass;
He sets a pace for the twenty-nine
And won’t let one of them pass.
The white hound comes from a home in Wales,
Where they like them pale in hue
And can pick them up when the daylight fails
And the first gold stars look through.
They can see them running on dark hill-sides
If they speak to the scent or no,
And the snow-white hounds are welcome guides
Where the wild Welsh foxes go.
The white hound runs with our dappled pack
Far out behind him strung;
He shows the way to the tan-and-black
But he never throws his tongue.
At times he leads by a hundred yards,
But he’s always sure and sound;
All packs, of course, have their picture cards,
And ours is the old white hound.
The Master says he is far too fast
For our stout, determined strain,
And the huntsman curses him – ‘D—n and blast
He’s away by himself again!’
But the Field is glad when it sees him there,
For we know when a fox is found
The pace will be hot and the riding rare
In the track of the old white hound.
From The Collected Sporting Verse of Will H. Ogilvie (1932). The gift of Edmund S. Twining III.
by Will Ogilvie
O, Fame is a fading story
And gold a glitter of lies,
But speed is an endless glory
And health is a lasting prize;
And the swing of a blood horse striding
On turf elastic and sound
Is joy secure and abiding
And kingship sceptered and crowned.
So give me the brave wind blowing,
The open fields and free,
The tide of the scarlet flowing,
And a good horse under me;
And give me that best of bounties:
A gleam of November sun,
The far-spread English counties,
And a stout red fox to run.
From A Handful of Leather (1928). The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
The Library holds many of Ogilvie’s books as well as those of numerous other sporting poets in our Main Reading Room. Please consider dropping by and spending an afternoon exploring them!
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.